I was undergoing the 25th Higher Command course at the College of Combat, Mhow (Madhya Pradesh). I admired and was stunned with the Army’s outstanding capability to provide logistics at the most remote and hostile places in terms of weather, terrain and connectivity. After returning from a Northern tour to J&K, Thoise, Leh and Siachin, I was oozing with overwhelming respect for the Army, its dedication and commitment. I felt that it was the Army that was keeping Kashmir with India through its commitment and strategic sense.
One day, I was sitting with a few Army course mates at the bar (even though I don’t drink) and enjoying their conversation. I told them that I am very fond of old Hindi songs and a particular song: Aa laut ke aaja mere meet, which I used to hear at my nana and nani’s place on Murphy radio, and which was Binaca #1 song in the year had me captivated. I told them that it would be nice to visit Rani Roopmati’s palace or pavilion, at Mandu, about 75 kms from Mhow.
I had intended it as a casual visit with a few of us going there on a sunday forenoon in a leisurely sort of way. So often, in the Navy, we have undertaken such visits to Lonavala, or Hamla at the spur of the moment.
Three days later, a thick document landed in my locker. It was titled: ‘Orders for the Visit of HC 25 Officers to Rani Roopmati’s Palace’. It had various appendices and annexures. I noticed from the long list of addresses that it wasn’t addressed to the President of the United States and Secretary General of the UN. Most others had been taken care off. Amongst other things, the orders covered:
2. Advance party and complete logistics (spelled ‘lgs’ in the orders) the men of this party had to carry. This included such small items as ash trays, saunf and tooth-picks to such big items as kitchen-tent, portable urinals, lamps, serving trays, wash basins etc.
3. A complete appendix and annexures on transport (tpt); who to report to at what time; fuel and lubricants to carry.
4. Medical contingencies.
5. Other contingencies and alternate plans with a map of the area with route chart and alternate route.
6. A list of telephone numbers that may be of use.
7. Reports to be submitted.
8. Detailed (as if this was not detailed enough) briefing would be held at….etc.
Suddenly, the casual visit was no more casual. As the lyrics of the 1959 movie Rani Roopmati starring Bharat Bhushan and Nirupa Roy, reverberated in my ears, I didn’t think of Rani Roopmati or her Pavilion in Mandu from where she could gaze at the palace of her love Baaz Bahadur. I didn’t think of Bharat Vyas, SN Tripathi and Mukesh who put the enigmatic song together that haunted me for years. Curiously, I thought of Naidus of Coimbatore, Tamilnadu (where I was posted in 1978-79). Whenever they got the urge to rough it out in the hills on an annual adventure picnic, their advance party carried air-conditioned tents for them and all the necessities of life that they were used to. And then, they would arrive to be one with Nature.
Late in the night, after reading the detailed orders, I switched on my cassette-deck and listened to Aa laut ke aa ja mere meet. Laut ke aa? Well, we hadn’t even started yet; and the song had already lost its enigma, nostalgia and fascination.
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